Research Briefs - July

Jul 21, 2016, 08:36 AM by KirstiAnn Clifford

A new study by UTMB researchers found that pulmonary rehabilitation (PR) therapy among older adults with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is underutilized, despite its health benefits and cost effectiveness. Shawn Nishi, MD, assistant professor of Internal Medicine, said the study is the first to describe the use of PR among COPD patients in a large, nationally representative sample of U.S. patients. PR offers a comprehensive approach designed to relieve COPD symptoms and flare-ups and teach patients to manage their health beyond the duration of the program. The benefits of PR include reduced shortness of breath, increased exercise ability, improved health-related quality of life and less dependence on health care resources. The majority of the economic burden of caring for COPD stems from hospitalization for sudden COPD flare ups. PR is known to reduce COPD-related emergency room visits, hospitalizations and unscheduled doctor visits. The findings are currently available in the Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation and Prevention.

Sapna Kaul, PhD, assistant professor of Health Economics, has found that cancer survivors who were diagnosed as adolescents or young adults are more likely to be current cigarette smokers than people who have not had cancer. The researchers identified 1,019 survivors of cancer from the 2012-2014 National Health Interview Surveys who were diagnosed when they were between 15 and 39 years old and were at least five years after diagnosis. A comparison group of people without a history of cancer was matched. The people in the study self-reported their smoking status, whether they were diagnosed with cancer and chronic illnesses such as asthma and diabetes, and their general health status. The study found that 33 percent of survivors were current smokers compared with 22 percent of the people without a history of cancer. The current smokers among survivors were significantly more likely to report chronic illness, such as having asthma, heart diseases, lung diseases, diabetes and poorer general health. Kaul said that in their study close to 40 percent of the currently smoking survivors reported not having any smoking-related discussion with health professionals in the previous year. She stated that addressing smoking during medical visits may be the first step in encouraging survivors to quit smoking. The findings of this study are currently available in the journal Cancer.

Cornelis Elferink, PhD, a professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology, received a new research grant totaling $2,213,845 from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to investigate little-known processes involved in the harmful health effects following exposure to various environmental contaminants. The Aryl hydrocarbon receptor, or AhR, is known to be involved in the body’s toxic response to contaminants, but recent studies are highlighting the growing realization that AhR acts in ways beyond what is currently understood. The findings of this project may represent a paradigm shift in the understanding of AhR biology.

Nikos Vasilakis, PhD, an associate professor of Pathology, received a new cooperative agreement with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases totaling $2,388,548 to further understand what allows the dengue virus to jump species and cause disease in humans. Dengue viruses cause an estimated 50 million to 100 million human infections each year. The study will focus on the transmission cycle in Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo, a region that has been separated from mainland Asia for about 12,000 years and contains distinct dengue virus variants that are thought to not be found in either the human cycle or the animal-mosquito cycle of mainland Malaysia. The results of the study may improve predictions of the risk of future emergence of dengue virus and other mosquito-borne viruses, lead to the preparation of guidelines for arbovirus surveillance and control/outbreak management for the entire Southeast Asian region.

Ramkumar Menon, PhD, assistant professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, has furthered our understanding of what triggers the birthing process. Understanding how chemical signals work in normal full-term pregnancies to begin birthing can provide insights into how and why these signals activate too early and trigger the labor and delivery process prematurely. The researcher team isolated chemicals from the discarded placental tissue of women who delivered their babies via cesarean section at full term without going into labor. A portion of the isolated signaling chemicals were exposed to stress using cigarette smoke extract. The study found that the stress or increased levels of a stress-induced protein that triggers uterine contractions. The study’s findings were recently published in the journal Plos One.

Compiled from press releases written by Donna Ramirez. Find out more at